Definition: Diabulimia is a potentially fatal type of eating disorder that affects those with type 1 diabetes. It involves restricting insulin intake and disordered eating habits.
Type 1 diabetes is a kind of autoimmune condition that causes an individual’s immune system to attack insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. To manage this, people are given synthetic insulin to live with and manage their blood sugar levels.
People who are struggling with diabulimia intentionally restrict or avoid taking insulin, as well as engage in disordered eating behaviours. Due to this, it can be a potentially life-threatening condition and lead to many health problems.
People with diabulimia will experience symptoms in different ways. This doesn’t make anyone’s journey anymore or less valid, it’s just important to remember that your own journey is unique to you.
- Restricting insulin intake
- Feeling tired all the time
- Feeling thirsty a lot
- Neglect of diabetes management
- Blood glucose (sugar) levels that inconsistent with A1C
- Secrecy about blood sugar, insulin, food, or eating habits
- Exercising a lot
- Severe fear of gaining weight due to insulin use
- Issues with body image
- Social withdrawal
- Restricting food intake or only eating certain ‘safe’ foods
- Purging behaviors
People may experience some or all of the above symptoms. In some individuals, there may be additional symptoms including anxiety, depression, and others.
It’s important to note that having diabulimia, or any eating disorder, doesn’t have a ‘look’. Weight loss, gain, and changes in appearance are side effects and are not part of the disorder itself. If you’re struggling with disordered eating urges, habits, or thoughts, you ARE sick enough and deserve proper care and support.
Eating disorder recovery entails working both on one’s physical and mental health and each journey will be unique to an individual. Treatments can include:
Some individuals may benefit from certain medications, such as antidepressants, to help with symptoms. As well as this, individuals may receive further treatments for their diabetes. In some cases, medical or hospital intervention may involve such things as weight-restoration programs, diabetes treatments, and treatments for co-occurring health issues, such as gastroparesis, dehydration, diabetes-related ketoacidosis, and more.
It’s best to talk to your health team when looking at treatment options. They can recommend and guide you through what could be the best fit for you and your well-being.
I have a loved one experiencing diabulimia, how can I help?
If you have a loved one who is struggling, having an open conversation about how you can best support them can mean the world. For example, asking how you can best support them on their journey. You could offer to help with chores, send them a message to let them know you’re thinking of them, encourage them to maintain their diabetes management, etc. Simply being a friend can often be the best thing to do. Maybe even working on a well-being plan with your loved one that may be useful to both of you.
Understanding this condition is also immensely helpful. It can help you and your loved one to better work with what they’re going through. Realising that their eating disorder is an illness and not them can also be useful to both of you. It’s equally important to also remember to take time out for yourself for self-care.
It’s important for those struggling to know that you can fight and recover from diabulimia. You can find ways to heal from it. There is always hope and people who care about you who will support you on your journey.
Voices of Hope wants you to know that your life has value and you are so deserving of the help, care, and support you need. You can fight diabulimia and you can heal from it and live a life free of it. We understand how difficult mental illnesses can be, but you are worthy, and you are strong. You can get through this. Reach out and keep fighting. You are not alone in your fight. We believe in you. And remember that there is ALWAYS hope.
Resources and Links:
- NZ Eating Disorders Clinic - Associated Conditions
- Healthline - Diabulimia
- Love Your Kite
- WebMD - What Is Diabulimia?
- Bite Back by Sarah Harry
- The Mighty - Diabulimia
- ED.org - Getting Help
- Cleveland Clinic - Diabulimia
- Beating Diabulimia
- Choosing Therapy - Diabulimia
- Eating Disorder Hope
- The Body Love Society
Voices of Hope does not offer direct mental health services and our team is not comprised of trained mental health professionals. If you require assistance, we recommend visiting our resources page for helpful information.
If you are in immediate risk of harm to yourself or